Support the Leaders You Hope For

Kids4Peace responds to controversy about Palestinian flag at camp

Fr. Josh Thomas
Executive Director, Kids4Peace International

Earlier this week, a group of Kids4Peace youth was privileged to visit Camp Solomon Schechter near Seattle, Washington.

They included Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, and American teens from Jerusalem and our local Seattle chapter.  They came to share the stories of their lives, and their work together for peace.  It was a powerful few days of learning and dialogue, which my colleague Jordan Goldwarg describes on the Kids4Peace blog.

During the visit, the camp raised the Palestinian flag alongside the American and Israeli flags, as a gesture of welcome to all of our visiting youth.  Since then, many have loudly criticized that decision, while others have supported it as a step toward peace.

To some, the Palestinian flag evokes the failure of past negotiations, continued hostility toward Israel, and a feeling that there is no partner for peace.

At the same time, the Palestinian youth who came to camp are precisely those peace leaders who are reaching out to work with Israelis, to counter incitement, and build a new future on a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.  These Muslim and Christian youth are also part of the Palestinian people, and they deserve only admiration and support.

Many say the two societies are not ready for peace.  In Kids4Peace we are working to change that.

We do not engage in superficial conversations that avoid hard issues. We are not naive about the challenges. Instead, we honestly address the histories and narratives of each side, the connection of both peoples to the land, and the daily realities they face because of the conflict.  We don’t do one-off workshops or feel-good encounters.  Ours is a long-term, year-round program of dialogue, leadership and action.  We speak about occupation and terror, about Zionism and the Nakba.  And we are committed to nonviolence.

In Kids4Peace, we work to empower the pro-peace voices in both societies.  In today’s Times of Israel, my colleague Meredith Rothbart, our Israeli Co-Director in Jerusalem, shares her own story as a religious Zionist working for peace alongside Palestinians who seek security, equality, dignity, and freedom for their people.  The young leaders of Kids4Peace, including those who visited Camp Solomon Schechter, are courageous activists.  Instead of blaming the other side for past failures, or giving in to the deadly cynicism that says nothing will ever change, these Israeli and Palestinian youth are taking responsibility for their future.

Together, they are educating their own societies toward peace.  These are the partners for peace – the new generation of leaders – that so many on both sides have been hoping for.

Unfortunately, most Americans and Israelis never encounter any pro-peace Palestinian voices.  Instead, their perspectives are shaped by painful past experiences, and media portrayals that reinforce negative views. But it is wrong to view all Palestinians as enemies of Israel or the Jewish people.  That’s why Kids4Peace came to camp in the first place.

We are grateful for leaders in the American Jewish community who are partnering with us to present a more balanced, mature, and honest picture of Israeli and Palestinian life today.  We are especially grateful for those who invite Palestinians to speak in their own words about their life, their struggles, and their personal and national aspirations.

Today, Kids4Peace in Jerusalem is a community of more than 500 families, from every part of the city.  With greater support, we can grow Kids4Peace to reach thousands more Jerusalem youth, and build a movement powerful enough to turn the tide of this conflict.

Fr. Josh Thomas
Executive Director, Kids4Peace International
@frjoshthomas | @kids4peace

Contact: info@k4p.org